Across China: French traveler pursues idyllic life in China's Huangshan

Updated: November 3, 2023 Source: Xinhua News Agency
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HEFEI, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- After walking for nearly 10 kilometers by China's Huangshan Mountain, and just as he was on the verge of giving up, Phil Lecomte caught sight of a beautiful village.

This moment took place 14 years ago, when the Frenchman traveled to a small town at the foot of the mountain with his camera and backpack.

In 1999, Lecomte traveled to China for the first time. He has since traveled to China almost yearly, as the owner of an antiques business in France. He says that the vast lands and beautiful scenery of China, including mountains, rivers, ancient villages and terraced fields, are things he never forgets.

In 2009, he traveled to Huangshan Mountain in Anhui Province, a place that changed his life. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and world geological park, the mountain is famous for its five wonders: oddly shaped pines, rock formations, seas of clouds, hot springs and winter snow.

Lecomte lived in Tunxi District at the foot of Huangshan Mountain for three months. Surrounded by mountains and rivers, the district is famous for its Huizhou culture street that has a history of hundreds of years. The Huizhou culture is a unique regional culture that is richly varied, and includes aspects of traditional Chinese science and technology, education, opera and architecture.

"I didn't want to leave here anymore. I wanted to change my life and be a dreamer like I was when I was a child," Lecomte said.

His trip to China turned into a long-term stay. "I still remember that the first thing I bought in Tunxi was a tent," he recalled. And tent was certainly representative of his life in China, spent climbing, hiking and camping in the mountains.

In 2012, Lecomte became a tour guide. Unlike other guides, he rarely takes his guests -- mostly foreigners -- to the most popular attractions. Instead, he searches for unknown scenery in the surrounding area.

"I just open the map app and see if there are any villages around the popular tourist spots. If there are, I will go there and see if it's worth traveling to." Lecomte often hikes or rides a motorcycle with his friends, away from the hustle and bustle, to find hidden scenery scattered around Huangshan Mountain, he said.

But they are surprised from time to time. Meadows by streams, ancient villages at the foot of the mountains and inaccessible forests have become "secret destinations" that he brings his friends to revisit again and again.

Lecomte enjoys time spent camping and hiking with his Chinese and foreign friends. They sing and play the ukulele by clear streams, chat with locals herding cattle or picking tea, and fall asleep to the sounds of frogs and cicadas.

Sometimes, he also travels with his Chinese tour guide friends. "It's very interesting that even at the scenic spots that they have visited countless times, they have never been to the places I take them to," Lecomte said.

Now, he also shares the beautiful moments he captures on his camera on Chinese social media, like images of an old man sitting by the river reading a book against the sunset, or children running around an ancient village waving colorful fish lanterns.

Lecomte has taken more than 118,000 photos in China to date.

"I grew up in Tunxi, and these photos have captured the moments in my memory," wrote a netizen named Yuehan.

Lecomte likes one of his photos very much: a little girl holding a cartoon umbrella, squatting in the middle of an ancient street and building a snowman with a small shovel in the heavy snow.

"OMG, the girl was me when I was little!" a young Chinese netizen commented shortly after the photo was posted. The magical connection between past and present, and between reality and the internet amazed him.

Lecomte still has a photo of his childhood home. A house with a red roof is reflected in the clear lake, surrounded by forests, like a picturesque oil painting.

"When I was a child, I loved camping in this forest with my friends. When I would wake up at night in my sleeping bag, I could see the stars when I looked up. Now, when I camp on Huangshan, I can also see the stars that can't be seen in the cities," he said.

Editor: Yang Linlin